damn, wasn’t that a great surprise?
contempt of ones own work as planning for career
beautiful woman beautifully painted
1 Castle Street
do you recognise Prada?
small attempt at surprise with known motive
It has often been said that Michael Krebber’s work contains a compressed history of Western painting. Executed in 2002, Perfect Damn, wasn’t that a great surprise? demonstrates how Krebber’s awareness of his own unique place within that lineage provides the foundation for his continued explorations at the limits of the medium.
Krebber’s early career was spent as a studio assistant, first for Markus Lüpertz and then Martin Kippenberger, in the halcyon atmosphere of the 1980s Cologne art scene. Cologne at that time was home to an intense concentration of artists whose work directly addressed the question of what more, if anything, could be achieved in painting, which for centuries had occupied the most privileged position of all Western art forms. When, in 1994, Krebber declared ‘I do not believe that I can invent something new in art or painting because whatever I would want to invent already exists’, he was articulating precisely this issue (M. Krebber, Michael Krebber: Apothekerman, Braunschweig 2001, p. 70). It was a question that had a profound personal and professional bearing on Krebber, socially immersed as he was in a scene that bridged several generations of artists, critics and dealers.
Krebber’s response was to find a way to submerse this critique within his paintings, retaining its complex and recursive indeterminacy. The frames on which he stretches fabric, often found, sometimes with paint applied, sometimes without, are not only an apparatus for designating a work as a painting, but also function as a metaphor for the conceptual framework which supports his discourse on painting. This discourse is one whose parameters are set by the artist’s own network of influence and the position he occupies in relation to the medium’s immediate history and immediate future.
On the one side there is the Neue Wilde group of artists: Albert Oehlen, Martin Kippenberger, and of particular significance in the case of Perfect Damn, Sigmar Polke. Polke’s dot paintings are the single most pronounced point of reference for the present work. Krebber’s thinly veiled theft of their distinctive aesthetic is typical of what some have admiringly called his empty appropriation; a device designed to deflect the content of the work elsewhere, to problematize its art historical context and to focus on the symbolic interrelatedness and irresolution of formal concerns. Furthermore, Polke’s interest in the confrontation between technological and manual processes for creating images, which provides the subject of works like Ohne Titel, 1994, lends itself perfectly to Krebber’s concerns regarding the status of painting as a historically reproductive medium searching for a new identity as a medium of unique productions.
On the other side of Krebber’s discursive frame are the students that have passed through the artist’s seminars at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main since he took up his current post there in 2002 – the year Perfect Damn was painted. In his professorial capacity it is widely accepted that Krebber has exerted an influence over emerging generations of painters unmatched in any art education establishment. It is therefore between these two poles – congregations that represent the past and the future of the medium – that Perfect Damn oscillates. In his seminal essay Painting Beside Itself, David Joselit referred to this lateral movement as transitive, describing works that have ‘the capacity to hold in suspension the passages internal to a canvas, and those external to it’ (D. Joselit, ‘Painting Beside Itself’, October 130, Fall 2009, p. 129). It is in light of this conception of painting as a matrix of formal and contextual concerns riddled with internal contradictions that the allusions of Krebber’s rhetorical title emerge; that his painting is both perfect and damned should surprise no-one at all.